Wood: There’s nothing like the real thing
By Reginald Tucker—After several years of losing market share to wood-look products, wood flooring is regaining momentum. That’s according to research conducted by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), which estimates solid wood floors saw a 20% increase in 2021, ending the year with the highest share rate since 2007. For 2022, the group expects the U.S. hardwood flooring market to grow about 14%.
“The robust renovation and building market over the past two years has been well documented,” said Michael Martin, NWFA CEO, adding that 75% of homeowners made improvements to their homes during the pandemic. Even more telling, according to NWFA research, is the fact that homeowners are investing in higher-quality products. And that bodes well for hardwood flooring. “There has never been a better time to grow market share for real wood flooring,” Martin stated.
Back in 2018, NWFA launched a national public relations campaign with the tagline, “Real Wood, Real Life.” The promotional effort was aimed at not only driving consumer awareness of the features, benefits and advantages of real hardwood flooring vs. look-alike products, but it also armed specialty retailers, installers and contractors with the advertising and marketing tools they needed to drum up support for the category in the face of stiff competition. The end result, according to NWFA, was the creation of a uniform, coordinated marketing message that continues to pay dividends. “We’re starting to hear the wood flooring industry come together on that messaging, and that’s exciting to see,” Martin told FCNews. “Research shows the consumer wants durable, healthy floors along with the ability to easily maintain those products over the long term. We plan to continue that messaging through our own social media campaigns and by working with manufacturers on how they can take their own product and branding and integrate that in their efforts.”
Following is a sampling of some of the latest introductions that tout the allure of today’s real wood flooring products:
The ever-expanding range of products under AHF Products’ 13-brand portfolio runs wide and deep, but one recent introduction seems to be generating the most noise at retail at present. Dogwood Densified Wood, offered in the Bruce brand, is billed as a real game changer for the hardwood flooring buyer. The product is a 100% natural floor created using a natural process—no fillers, additives or alternative cores. Through a proprietary manufacturing process using heat and pressure, Dogwood delivers a genuine hardwood floor that’s resistant to scratches, gouging, dents and water incursion caused by typical household accidents.
“The main thing keeping people from buying hardwood is damage from pets,” said Jeff Sommer, director of marketing, AHF Products. “Dogwood is 100% real hardwood. These are the perfect floors for busy and active homes.”
New from Shaw Floors’ Anderson Tuftex division comes a pair of hardwood flooring collections that stand out for their aesthetic attributes: Grand Estate and Joinery.
Grand Estate is an oil-finished collection, a first for Anderson Tuftex, that launched in 10 trendy but classic colors. In keeping with today’s consumer demands, the line is nearly 10 inches wide and available in random lengths up to 86 inches. “It’s that clean, European white oak visual, thick veneer, but it has that oil finish that gives it that low luster,” said Charla Pettingill, director of creative product design–hard surfaces at Shaw.
Joinery, by comparison, offers a wood floor with an inlay design inspired by a Japanese woodworking design element. The embedded inlays are inserted prior to a reactive staining process. The end result is a visual that provides more depth and style while playing off a geometric visual. “We know that this is not going to be for every floor, so we have a plank that coordinates with it,” Pettingill explained.
Boen, one of the leading engineered hardwood flooring producers head-quartered in Europe, is bringing its signature long plank/wide-width products to the U.S. market just as the longer/wider trend is taking hold. It’s all about maximizing wood’s natural visual appeal in a format consumers can appreciate.
“Everything we do is on a full-length plank; even our standard product is 71⁄2 feet long,” said Dan Natkin, CEO/managing director of Boen’s North American operations. “We offer our signature product, which is 91⁄2 long x 12 inches wide, in two different finishes: A traditional oil finish and a medium gloss coating. To further differentiate our products, the finish goes into the wire-brushed areas, which makes it more water and stain resistant. But the biggest thing is it keeps the natural look of the wood itself. A final stain gives it more of an amber color; the finishing process we use preserves the natural look of the wood.”
Create Flooring by Muchsee Wood features a robust selection of engineered hardwood products including the Vineyards collection (1⁄2-inch European oak with a sliced veneer). Vineyards is offered in 10 colors and provides a designer look—without the designer price tag—to meet every application. The line is highlighted by wide widths and long lengths.
Create also offers three budget-friendly collections in birch, hickory and oak. All are 3⁄8-inch thick, 5 inches wide and random lengths.
Muchsee Wood has two large factories in China as well as warehouses in Georgia and Dallas along with corporate headquarters in Georgia. Over the last decade, Muchsee Wood, a USA registered corporation, has evolved into a major supplier to the North America flooring market.
Flooringlines, a direct hardwood flooring distributor, offers a wide selection of unique hardwood flooring products sourced from around the globe. Its growing family of hardwood brands now includes Artisan Hardwood, Bavarian, Colonial, Divergent, En Bois Flooring, Hermitage, JC Flooring, Summitt Forest and Hemp Wood, to name a few.
“We carry all of their lines,” said Tim Hosea, sales manager at Arizona Hardwood Floor Supply, based in Phoenix. “They are nimble and able to adapt to current trends, and they’re hitting all the price points and looks that consumers are after.”
Among the latest top-selling hardwood brands from Flooringlines are: En Bois, HempWood Natural Flooring and the Villa Blanca collection. En Bois is a luxury floor that aims to strike the right balance between contemporary design trends and traditional interior colors and textures, while Villa Blanca delivers premium hardwood products in widths spanning 71⁄2 to 9 inches.
HempWood Natural Flooring, the company’s latest offering, is an environmentally friendly alternative option that is non-toxic and made in the U.S. With only six months for plant maturity time, HempWood can start manufacturing new products quickly while keeping its pricing competitive against domestic hardwoods. This carbon-negative lumber alternative consists of the smallest ecological footprint with ultra-low VOCs to avoid any added use of formaldehyde.
Hallmark offers its retailer and distributor partners an array of trendy, all-wood collections to suite a variety of different tastes. For instance, American Traditional Classics offers the timeless look of engineered hardwood in narrow planks of varying widths of 3 1⁄4 to 5 inches. Then there’s the ultra-wide Avenue collection, which gives the impression of a larger overall space. Each plank in the line aims to capture the beauty of nature’s strongest and most dramatic hardwood species.
The Empire collection features Hallmark’s top 10 colors in the increasingly popular herringbone pattern. The series features European oaks with American hickories and maples milled for ease of installation— which is critical in any herringbone layout.
Rounding out the offering is Hallmark’s True hardwood flooring collection, whose colors are rendered using the “bogwood process.” This occurs when logs lie buried in lakes, river and waterways for hundreds of years, deprived of oxygen and sunlight. This natural coloring process creates a product whereby the color/hue on the face of the wood plank filters down throughout the full depth of the plank.
Harris Wood, part of the QEP family of brands, strives to cover all the bases for virtually every tier of consumer in the market for hardwood flooring. To that end, the company has employed a good/better/best strategy to help RSAs recommend a product for every need.
As Renee Tester, vice president of marketing, e-commerce and digital, QEP, explained:
“We start off with the base grade (Cottage collection), then work our way up to Chalet, which is still entry-level but more fashion-forward. That’s followed by Watercrest, our click program, and from there we move up to our premium line—the Mountain Series. We’ve reformulated a lot of the products that go in Mountain, and we’ve added a maple and a hickory to the lineup. Traditionally, we’ve had a lot of red and white oak, so we’ve expanded the species.”
Beyond the Harris Wood-branded products, the company has also expanded its Naturally Aged offerings. According to Tester, this line is billed as a more curated product offering that features more cerusing than what you might see in a typical Harris Wood product. “We’re introducing nine new SKUs in a 9 1⁄2-inch-wide plank with a 4mm face,” she noted. “Three will launch in May; the others will launch in June.” Suggested retail pricing will run in the $10-$12 per square foot range.
The mad scramble for alternative imported supply from Asia has put the spotlight back on species gleaned from South America. And that’s welcome news for suppliers like Indusparquet.
“Our retail and distribution partners are seeing increased demand for our products,” said Jodie Doyle, vice president of sales and marketing of the 52-year-old company. “We are seeing tremendous momentum with our Brazilian oaks (Tauari) in both solid and engineered formats. We have seen these swings in demand before, and we’re in a great position to manage this challenge.”
While there are some supply chain issues regarding Indusparquet’s traditional solid exotics (i.e., Jatoba, Cumaru and Sucupira) due primarily to raw materials availability, the outlook is upbeat. “The inquiries we’re receiving on both traditional exotics and new products like Tauari is really energizing for our entire team,” Doyle explained. “We pride ourselves as being the gold standard when it comes to our category because we have the entire package. I sense that customers are wanting to see new, different looks and many of the products we offer are hitting that sweet spot.”
Mannington, via its long-term licensing partner, Välinge Innovation, has launched TimberPlus, a collection of real wood flooring featuring Woodura surface technology and 5G Dry locking system for the North American market.
“Mannington’s new TimberPlus hardwood with Woodura and 5G Dry is truly a great addition to our award-winning hardwood line,” said John Hammel, director of hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “We’re excited to have a real hardwood floor that stands up to the high-performance standards from the American flooring customer, with durability, water resistance and colors and formats consumers are looking for.”
The Woodura surface technology featured in TimberPlus is based on fusing a thin sheet of wood with a high-density core through a powder mix layer, creating a significantly stronger surface and enabling 10 times more flooring to be produced from the same amount of lumber, according to the company. The line is said to provide up to three times the impact protection of a traditional hardwood floor, while still being sustainable.
Mercier puts the spotlight on several top-performing collections and species: Atmosphere, White Ash Naked, White Oak Naked (herringbone) and Red Oak.
The Atmosphere collection boasts light and neutral shades that let the wood shine through and is available in both solid and engineered platforms as well as assorted quality grades.
New from Mercier’s Naked Series comes White Ash whose contrasting colors are softened for a more uniform appearance. Available in both solid and engineered options, white ash Naked comes in widths ranging from 3 1⁄4 to 6 1⁄2 inches. A new herringbone offering, also available in white oak, rounds out the collection.
“With this finishing technology, we are able to apply a coating to the wood and seal the wood and then apply our Generations coating on top of it without changing the look,” Wade Bondrowski, Mercier’s director of sales, U.S., explained. “With most other wood flooring finishes, once you put a urethane finish on it really does change the look of the graining of the natural wood species. What we have been able to do with the Naked Series is seal that visual with a finish without changing the natural sawn look of the wood.”
Lastly, Mercier’s red oak reflects the timeless appeal of this tried-and-true color. Available natural or stained in satin, matte or matte-brushed glosses, this species is designed to bring warmth to any décor. Red oak is available in solid and engineered platforms, with widths ranging from 2 1⁄4 to 8 1⁄8 inches.
Mirage has expanded its popular DreamVille collection with a new color—Sanibel. The blend of Sanibel’s warm tones with copper and golden honey accents highlight the inherent wavy grain of oak. Sanibel, based on a popular Southeast U.S. island bearing the same name, is available on brushed oak on a 5-inch-wide engineered platform and features Mirage’s DuraMatt X finish.
“With its warm tone and timeless elegance, this new color will inspire those who demand the very best in design,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Mirage.
The low-matte, yet durable finish aims to reproduce the look of an oiled floor without the hassle or maintenance typically associated with oil finishes.
Mohawk is keeping its finger on the pulse of consumers seeking more trendy, desirable looks in hardwood with the launch of Islandair, a 6 1⁄2-inch-wide sliced European oak in random lengths up to 75 inches long on a 3⁄8-inch platform with 1.2mm face with a light wire-brushed texture.
“Our retailers have been asking for thinner products and traditional colorations,” said Paige Osborne Nichols, product director. “We think that’s coming from this re-emerging trend of mid-century modern style and design. Gold colorations and fixtures are gold or champagne gold that are really driving the market right now, whereas two years ago you saw these heavy silver-grays. Now, we’re seeing that on its downward slope.”
The release of Islandair reflects the overall shift in consumer demand for less aggressive scraping. “In years past, it was heavy texture—more sunken knots and splits,” Nichols explained. “This is a more refined and cleaner visual—a little bit of character in there but not dominant.”
While it offers both hardwood and resilient flooring offerings, Provenza’s forte is real wood. The company prides itself on providing leadership in the styling, design and innovation of hardwood floors. This is evident in its approach to the manufacture of distinct, one-of-a- kind products that differentiate itself from both commodity products as well as other mid-to upper-end hardwood floors on the same price level. Its award-winning floor and wall collections reflect beauty, style and innovation, as evidenced by the growing popularity of signature collection such as Lugano, Tresor, Vitali, Affinity and Volterra, to name a few.
“There are many synthetic hard surface products designed to look like wood, but nothing beats the visual appeal and characteristics of the real thing,” said Ron Sadri, principal owner, Provenza Floors. “There is nothing that you can do to create that look on a waterproof or a vinyl product. With most vinyl wood-look floors that utilize a digitally printed design layer or a decorative film, you will always find repeats through the boards. But this doesn’t happen with real hardwood; you put a thousand pieces of wood on the floor and they all have something different about them. The natural look of it, the graining—you can tell the difference when you look at a vinyl floor vs. wood floor.”
Shaw expanded its popular Repel Splash-Proof hardwood collection with two new styles: Tactility and Landmark. The former, which comes in a 3⁄8-inch format with a micro-bevel, debuts in five colors: Sisal, Parchment, Woven, Hewn and Etched. Landmark, by comparison, is offered in a 1⁄2-inch-thick format with a classic bevel edge. Five shades in hickory and four colors in oak are available.
“Our new Repel engineered hardwoods address increased consumer demand for wider, longer planks and lighter, cleaner, sliced-oak and hickory visuals,” said Matt Rosato, hard surface channel director for Shaw Floors. “With a keen focus on craftsmanship and overall practicality, Repel hardwoods provide timeless beauty that’s built to last.”
Repel hardwood floors are not only designed to turn heads, but they also tout high- performance attributes as well. Repel floors feature an advanced splash-proof sealant and ScufResist Platinum technology for six times more protection from scuffing than traditional hardwood, according to Shaw. “Made in the USA, these natural hardwood styles provide timeless beauty and are built to last,” Rosato added.